Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: More Non-Fiction Comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these comics by clicking here.

This is the last of the batch!!! I’ll be posting my picks for Top Ten next week… what would yours be?

Also: HAPPY 3RD ANNIVERSARY, Crunchings & Munchings! Rebecca registered us on WordPress 3 years ago.

masterful-marks

Masterful Marks. Cartoonists Who Changed the World – 16 Graphic Biographies

Monte Beauchamp, editor

Simon & Schuster

Anticipation/expectation level: Picking up the book and flipping through it made me anticipate the act of reading it, because of the wonderful variety of drawing styles, many of them in the style of the artist that they are profiling. But an email discussion about the book pointed out some issues that I hoped wouldn’t be so prominent (spoiler alert: they were).

My Reality: Beauchamp has selected 16 figures who he thinks influenced comics history. The biographies are drawn by a wide range of artists and written by Beauchamp and others. I’m going to quote the publisher’s copy about the book to give you a better idea of the idea:

In a first-of-its-kind collection, award-winning illustrators celebrate the lives of the visionary artists who created the world of comic art and altered pop culture forever.

Sixteen Graphic Novel Biographies of:
• Walt Disney • Dr. Seuss • Charles Schulz • The Creators of Superman • R. Crumb • Jack Kirby • Winsor McCay • Hergé • Osamu Tezuka • MAD creator, Harvey Kurtzman • Al Hirschfeld • Edward Gorey • Chas Addams • Rodolphe Töpffer • Lynd Ward • Hugh Hefner

The story of cartoons—the multibillion-dollar industry that has affected all corners of our culture, from high to low—is ultimately the story of the visionary icons who pioneered the form.
But no one has told the story of comic art in its own medium—until now.

In Masterful Marks, top illustrators—including Drew Friedman, Nora Krug, Denis Kitchen, and Peter Kuper—reveal how sixteen visionary cartoonists overcame massive financial, political, and personal challenges to create a new form of art that now defines our world.

So, according to that, these are the figures that created comics – obviously not true. This is also not the first book that tells comics history in the comics form – there’s the Comic Book History of Comics,  comicbookhistorywhich is longer and more expansive, and might even include women! Actually, I’m not sure about that. But Masterful Marks definitely does not include women. It does manage to include Hugh Hefner, who was an amateur cartoonist and a publisher of comics artist. But it does not not an actual woman who creates comics or publishes comics. No Francoise Mouly. No Lynda Barry or Trina Robbins or Alison Bechdel or Tove Jansson or Jackie Ormes. Masterful Marks is narrowly focused because its editor is narrowly focused.

The comics themselves are lovely. But they are short. There is a lot of information to get into 16 pages or whatever, and so many of them have panels that are too crowded with narration, or panels that just have the biographical figure listing facts about themselves with no arc to the comic. The Walt Disney comic is just 2 anthropomorphic animals roaming the countryside – there is no point to that one being a comic at all.

Some of them are really great! Drew Friedman draws a personal story about how he knows Harvey Kurtzman, and because it has a personal connection that frames the story, it works. It doesn’t try to encompass the man’s entire life.

But not enough of them are great to make this book work. I would love to see full length, even 48 page comic biographies using this conceit, but the collection isn’t coherent enough to be even a rough history of comics, and the comics themselves are hamstrung by the length limitation.

Will teens like it?: I can see teens missing out on a lot of information trying to use this as a resource for a paper.

Is it “great” for teens?: No.

Art Taste:

masterful-marks-rcrumb

masterful-marks-addams

09-Shuster

dreamless dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics.

Chris Duffy, editor

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: Chris Duffy puts together some really excellent collections of comics adaptations of prose works for First Second, so I figured this had a good chance of being great.

My Reality: The poems and the art in this collection work so, so well together, better than I ever thought they would. The panels of the comics let the reader slow down and not rush through the poetry. It’s a treat to see how each artist tackles and interprets the pieces they have chosen/are assigned. Above the Dreamless Dead is a wonderful book to think about history, visual literacy, and poetry. And a great companion to read with Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood! The artists include Luke Pearson, Eddie Campbell, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff and Hannah Berry, among others.

Will teens like it?: They’d be lucky to come across this book.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

dreamlessdead1 dreamlessdead2 dreamlessdead3 dreamlessdead4

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDYcover

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder:  Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White  

Rick Geary, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/expectation level: I like Rick Geary’s historical murder books. They are usually well-researched, with a well-balanced structure of plot, art, and historical context/facts.

My Reality: I was especially interested to read this because of the Pittsburgh connection – the murderer was Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh. As this book shows, he was a real jerk and suffered from a combination of mental illness and wealth that allowed him to shoot a man in the face, beat and emotionally abuse his wife, and feel like it was his right to do so, and suffer barely any consequences for it. Stanford White sounds like a creep, too, but that doesn’t mean he should have been shot in the face. And poor Evelyn Nesbit. This is really her story, and it’s not a happy one.

I think a good comic book about history gives a full story and makes the reader want to dive more into the subject, and Madison Square Tragedy had exactly that effect on me. I closed the book and started looking up Thaw’s home in Pittsburgh, hoping it was still standing (it’s not – but the carriage house was on the market for over a million dollars a couple years back, and that’s a Pittsburgh valuation, which means it would sell for much more in any other city). I did find articles about Thaw’s home and his trial in the New York Times database, and they were fascinating. And I want to know more about Evelyn.

Will teens like it?: I always wonder if the “old timey” stylization of Geary’s art is a barrier for teens – I think that teens who are into true crime stories could get past it, but I don’t think these books, however worthy, are ever going to be shelf-jumpers in the teen section (I just made that term up).

Is it “great” for teens?: I still think it’s great.

Art Taste:

gearypreview

strangefruit

Strange Fruit – Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Joel Christian Gill, writer and artist

Fulcrum Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: The title certainly got me interested!

My Reality: As Gill’s first collection of comics, it shows a progression from competent to assured – you can see him relying on a similar format for story and panels for the first couple stories, then starting to branch out and become more comfortable with using his writing with his art. Consequently, the book gets more powerful as it goes along. Gill starts out with Henry “Box” Brown – the slave who shipped himself to freedom. That is the most well-known of Gill’s subjects – as promised, these are heretofore uncelebrated narratives in Black history, and I love that he has found them and started the celebration.

Will teens like it?: Yes, especially teens looking for subjects for their Black History Month projects.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

strangefruit41

colonial comics

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750

Jason Rodriguez, editor

Fulcrum Publishing

I’m still on hold for this, wah waaah. The cover has such lovely colors!

Reading the Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2015 noms: Gandhi, giants, and other real lives

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

It’s always fun to see what kind of comic biographies and memoirs are published in a year. You never know who you’re going to learn about.  Here’s my take on the nominated bios and memoirs.

gandhiquinn

Gandhi: my life is my message

Jason Quinn, writer

Sachin Nagar, illustrator

Campfire Bookas

Anticipation/expectation level: I wasn’t a fan of the other Gandhi graphic novel I’ve read (that got on a GGNT list), so I just hoped that this one was better. I had enjoyed Jason Quinn’s take on Steve Jobs from Campfire press, as well.

My Reality: I am convinced that no one should try this again unless they are Osamu Tezuka and want to do a bio of Gandhi in the same vein as the multi-volume Buddha – that is, comprehensively, with humor, and not so concerned with the facts. Because the fact is that there are a lot of facts about Gandhi, and when they try to be shoehorned into one book it tends to turn into a mess of jumping around in time, explicating things, and hero worship. Which is how I feel about this.

The setup doesn’t make sense to begin with. Gandhi is near the end of his life about to go out to a rally, and starts to reminisce. It doesn’t ring true that anyone would reminisce about their life as if they were explaining it to an audience, in chronological order. Why the weird framing device?

The art and panels are well-designed, with an eye to keeping the eye fresh. Characters are portrayed in a realistic style that has an energetic aesthetic – a nice change to comic biographies that feature leaden art that seems to be worried it won’t be realistic enough, and sinks under those worries.

1018140831

Here’s a terrible cell phone photo for an example.

The thing is that they tried to fit too much into too small of a book. As you can see there are Too many words, but the art has a light, life-filled energy, and the panels fit the story, instead of constraining it into a fixed number per page. Yet even creative paneling can’t help pacing that is jumping years with each page turn. There’s not enough time or room to explain who everyone is or give a proper context to the social and political situations. The authors use Gandhi to gloss over any uncomfortable issues in his life (probably leaving worse ones out, I don’t know, I haven’t read a proper biography that tries to be objective). I was left with the general feeling that Gandhi was a great guy, and the rest of it was a blur. And that’s why I don’t think it’s a very good introduction or short overview either – I just get the feeling that we’re not getting the whole story.

Will Teens like it?: Teens will definitely like to use this for any reports or papers they need to do on Gandhi

Is it “great” for teens?: To be great it would need to be a lot longer and more comprehensive.

Art Taste: see above.

boxerhaft

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

Reinhard Kleist, writer and artist

Self Made Hero

Anticipation/expectation level: I knew nothing about this and barely looked at the cover or jacket copy before starting to read it.

My Reality: This was fantastic! And heartbreaking. My visual literacy failed me because I didn’t notice the people on the cover who are clearly entering a work camp during World War II. The book opens with a boy on a mysterious drive with his angry, menacing father – Harry Haft. Soon it goes to flashback and the man that was just so alarming and unlikeable becomes sympathetic in short order. (Not a)Spoiler: at the end of the book the trip at the beginning is revealed and, if you are like me, will leave you sobbing. I feel like most people could just pick up the book and read the story fresh – no synopsis needed, but if you want one:

Harry gets sent to the concentration camps early in the war, and even younger than the age limit at which the Nazis were then taking people – because of a simple mixup that might easily never have happened. He endures years going from camp to camp, making what allies he can, protecting who he can, and being made to box other inmates. Even when he makes it through he has anger, grief, and life to contend with.

Kleist’s art reminds me of Nate Powell’s. He’s very adept at using black brushstrokes and maneuvering around light and shadow to make powerful splash pages and to bring out the oppressive atmosphere of the camps. The world opens up on the page, with panel borders often eschewed in place of white space.

Will Teens like it?: They might not pick it up off of the shelf without a hand-sell but it’s an engaging story that is tightly paced and has a great chance of hooking a teen brain.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

Boxer Title Slide 3

dumbestideaever

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Jimmy Gownley, writer and artist

Graphix/Scholastic

Anticipation/expectation level:   I’d read the last of Gownley’s Amelia books, and liked it, but didn’t have the attachment of reading the full series.

My Reality: Gownley tells the story of his own adolescence, framed through his rediscovery of comics and discovery of seeing himself as a comics artist, due to being grounded by illness. He struggles with first love, being bored in a small town, and the perils of success at a young age. As a writer, Gownley knows how to keep on the level of tweens and teens – his pacing is steady and hits the right notes of pratfalls and embarrassments and dumb jokes but doesn’t forget the depth and immediacy of feeling that comes with growing up and feeling grown up. He also treats the creative journey seriously and shows it as work, and work that teens can do – not something that’s magic, and not viewed through a hackneyed lens of nostalgia. It’s a hard balance to strike! His art is simple, with the heightened physicality and gestural faces suited to the story (think Raina Telgemeier and Lynn Johnston)

Will Teens like it?: Teens are the best audience for this (not that adults won’t enjoy it) – and they already do like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes, it has fun, understands them, and treats them like humans.

Art Taste:

Dumbest-Idea-Ever-page-19-46d99

andreboxbrown

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

Box Brown, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: High. At some of my most impressionable times in childhood I watched The Princess Bride (over and over) and saw the first Andre the Giant Has a Posse stickers before Shepard Fairey became famous. But I didn’t know much about him or his wrestling career, and so was looking forward to the comic.

My Reality: I did learn so much more about Andre. Box Brown goes to great lengths to research his life and provide a picture of the whole man, warts and all, drawing heavily on interviews, videos of wrestling matches, and articles (detailed in a lenghty endnote/bibliography section). It’s a book about Andre, but it also necessarily presents a backstage view of the business of wrestling, and that proves fascinating as well.

His pared down figures and carefully composed panels have a surety to them that adds to the feeling that this a story that comes from dedicated time – an analogue to a long-form profile in a magazine like the New Yorker. The world that Andre lives in is clear and unchangeable, and often cruel, just as Andre’s disease is unchangeable and inevitable. Andre has to navigate both as best he can, and the struggle, kept inside, is shown through his actions more than his words. At the end of it, I didn’t feel like I knew Andre as a person, but I felt like I knew his world. I couldn’t tell if it was because Brown wanted to stick closely to his sources and not speculate about Andre’s feelings, or if it was because Andre was naturally a private person, and no one really knew him in that way. But it’s definitely a book that sparks an interest for more – and that is something that I think makes a nonfiction comic great.

Will Teens like it?: Teens who are into wrestling will definitely like it. I wonder how many teens know who Andre the Giant is… but he has a story that is interesting regardless of his level of fame, and the anecdotal nature of the story is good for teen readers.

Is it “great” for teens?: I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

Andre-Giant-Acromegaly

fifthbeatle

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Vivek Tiwary, writer

Andrew Robinson, artist

Kyle Baker, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/expectation level: Skeptical. There are a number of Beatles comics from different angles (okay, I don’t know if there are a number. There’s at least one other). What angle is this working, and what does it add to what’s already out there? How does it stand up?

My Reality: It’s very hard to argue that anyone involved with the Beatles was more important than the Beatles. One might be able to make a case for Brian Epstein, their manager, who worked tirelessly to get them signed after rejections all over the place, and had a lot of great PR ideas and ambitions for the band. However, I don’t know if this is the book that really seals the deal on that argument. The endeavor feels uneven as a reading experience. For example, Baker and Robinson’s art is in some ways a perfect fit for the time period it’s representing – the faces are fresh but a bit mischievous and elfin, the bodies fit well in their jaunty, modern clothing, all angles and curved, swooping hair. The light of Liverpool is foggy and hushed, except when Epstein falls into his daydreams of matadors – but the faces also look too posed – they’re not speaking, they’re cutouts behind speech bubbles. The establishing scenes are reused in several places as if to cut corners, and the art can at times take a turn for the too-digital, clashing with the penciled feel of the rest of the pieces. The story, too, propels itself on Brian’s ambition. He feels a connection with the Beatles – which is explained through a confusing mashup of a live show and an anecdote about a matador. Then the reader is left to take the drive at face value and go along for the ride – as are the Beatles themselves, mostly shown as jokey and game for Epstein’s help – the lucky recipients of his magic touch. Then there’s Moxie, the figment of Epstein’s imagination who is also sort of real? I’m not sure what the book is trying to impart other than an awareness of Brian Epstein, but it looks good doing it.

Will Teens like it?: Unless the teen is a huge Beatles or 60s nerd, probably not.

Is it “great” for teens?: I would not say it’s great. Or for teens. But I don’t regret reading it.

Art Taste:

fifthb1p3

 

Next week: more books!

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